“Ghetto Brewing” by McKinley Alvarez – Guest Post

McKinley Alvarez, Kombucha Homebrewer, photographer and yoga teacher, delivers his thoughts on "ghetto Kombucha brewing techniques" in this guest postPlease welcome Guest Poster and Power Homebrewer McKinley Alvarez from Santa Cruz, CA!

Today’s post is all about advanced brewing techniques using fresh fruit.

While I advise brewers never to use fruit during primary fermentation to protect the health of the brew, of course there are many ways to make Kombucha as the SCOBY is an extremely hearty organism.

In that spirit, McKinley shares some ideas of how he makes his flavored Kombucha. Enjoy!

(He also takes awesome photos: check out his Flickr stream.)


Thank you Kombucha Mamma for inviting me to share my story of ghetto brewing! This is an honor since I consider you a critical resource to the Kombucha community.

I hope my story will inspire people who may be afraid to try brewing their own Kombucha.

Kombucha Brewing Jars
McKinley's jars

I can’t imagine life without Kombucha. When i’m hungry but don’t have time to eat, I drink some Kombucha to keep me going for a couple hours.

If I go a day or two without Kombucha, I find myself eating fruit like it’s going out of style to replace all the vitamins and nutrients my body is used to getting.

I also think it helps settle my stomach down too, but who knows, I’m not a doctor.

“I can’t imagine life without Kombucha.”

I remember the first time I heard of Kombucha—it was at the Bikram yoga studio where I practise. Only the teachers were drinking it, or so it seemed. GTs Kombucha is so expensive, at $3.50 – $5 a bottle and, being on budget, I didn’t actually get to try it for awhile.

Some people say Kombucha is an acquired taste, but I was hooked after my first bottle of Divine Grape. Oh my God, I had never tasted anything so refreshing. I got so hooked, a hippie friend of mine encouraged me to make my own. “No way can this make mine taste like the expensive GTs brand I’ve been buying,” I thought.

Fast forward a few months and I’m on the unemployment line wondering how I’m going to afford my Kombucha addiction. Remembering that Kombucha is an ancient Chinese tea, I researched how to brew my own on this very website. I decided I wanted to try making Strawberry Serenity or Divine Grape, my two favorite flavors.

Fruit added in during the kombucha brewing process.
Fruit added in during the kombucha brewing process. (p.s. Cheesecloth will let in fruit flies. Use a closed-weave cloth cover McKinley!)

I dove in a got a kombucha culture —it looked weird and slimy. I suddenly found myself immersed in the world of what I call “Ghetto brewing.”

“Ghetto brewing” is how I describe brewing on a budget. Maybe you would call it the idiot’s guide to brewing.

I have to keep it simple: instead of using loose leaf tea, I use tea bags (organic ones from Trader Joe’s or Paul Newman’s brand). Instead of fresh fruit, I use frozen fruit. Instead of swingtop bottles, I used my empty Kombucha bottles. Anything to save a penny.

“That’s the exciting thing about Kombucha,
there’s a lot of room for experimentation.”

Something to remember though: Kombucha is only as good as the ingredients.

After repeated horrible batches, I’m convinced the frozen strawberries at Trader Joe’s are guaranteed to make the worst Kombucha you would never want to drink.

(Ed note: I find they work fantastic, so readers do try for yourself and see what works for you! 🙂)

Blueberries, on the other hand, are pretty delicious no matter who grows them. Same with blackberries and I’m also pleased to report that I’ve had great success with frozen mango as well.

Recycled bottles are the most sustainable choice for homemade Kombucha.
Recycled bottles are the most sustainable choice for homemade Kombucha.

At the yoga studio where I practise, 3 friends have begun to brew their own fruit flavored Kombucha.

While their brewing methods are more traditional than mine, their results are fantastic—apricot/mango, pomegranate. It’s been a real treat to enjoy the brews my friends are making and each one is just amazing in its own way.

That’s the exciting thing about Kombucha, there is a lot of room for experimentation.

Imagine how they were doing it 3,000 years ago in China? It must have been the same way, a different brew on every block.


Interested in making fruit flavored kombucha in the brewing stage?

Try McKinley’s recipe, but remember, these are experimental techniques and may not brew a successful batch every time.

ALWAYS use an extra SCOBY from your SCOBY Hotel when trying a new brewing technique.

  • Add 6 ounces of fruit to 2-6 cups water and bring to a boil in a stainless steel pot.
  • Remove from heat, add tea bags to pot.
  • Steep 5-7 minutes, then remove tea bags.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of sugar and stir to dissolve. (The amount of sugar depends on the sugar levels of your fruit. Experiment for best flavor.)
  • Add fruit/tea mixture to vessel.
  • Fill vessel most of the way with purified water, leaving just 1-2 inches from the top for breathing room with purified cold water.
  • Add SCOBY and starter liquid.
  • Cover with cloth cover and secure with the rubber band.
  • Say a prayer, send good vibes, commune with your culture (optional but recommended).
  • Set in a warm location out of direct sunlight (unless vessel is opaque).
  • Do not disturb for 5-7 days.

Brewing Cycle may be reduced with this method.

Since the fruit is in direct contact with the fermentation process, it is possible that the flavors may turn sour more quickly.

Monitor the brew closely and taste after only 4-5 days to gauge flavor/progress.


Have you tried brewing with fruit?

How about other non-traditional brewing techniques?

Please leave a comment telling us about your adventures! 🙂


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Responses to “Ghetto Brewing” by McKinley Alvarez – Guest Post

  1. I am new to brewing, I’ll be doing my first batch today. But I love GTs Passionberry Bliss. Has anyone tried this, tastes so tropical. Does anyone have a recipe? I love reading all your comments!!

  2. I get the sensitivity about the word “ghetto”…BUT do believe it has transcended traditional context into a more contemporary and expanded one for many other references. Suck it up, buttercup. This isn’t a political forum. It’s funny, and its actually what pulled me into the article in the first place. Why? Because it reflects the exact same frame of reference I have for my own “ghetto brewing”. LOL
    And I’m half black so not offended.

  3. So how would I make my favorite G.T.’s Synergy Grape Chia? Any ideas? Brand new to this Ghetto brewing! Love it though!

  4. Hey all–I love the tips in this article and this site, but I have an issue with calling it “ghetto” brewing. “Ghetto” is a term used to make fun of, mock, or deride African American culture, in particular, and poor, urban folks in general. I’m sure no harm was intended, but I totally cringed all the way through my read. Even if the author grew up in a blighted, urban environment and can speak to that experience, it’s still offensive to me and I’m sure to others.

    “Brewing on a budget” or “budget brewing” or something like that would avoid this social justice faux pas…

    • Thank you for your input. I thought I was the only one who cringed when reading this and the comments even if it was used in an “innocent” manner, it’s still pretty thoughtless chiming from a community that I usually find to be more socially aware and conscious. I’m sure it’s an oversight but it’s in poor taste. Please think of all of your readers and the message certain words send.

    • I totally see where you are coming from however I would like to set facts straight. The term ghetto actually originally referred to the portion of a city in historical Europe where Jews were required to live. Today in our country it usually refers to a portion of a city that is economically depressed. In some circles the term *may* have specific racial connotations but truthfully not in my experience. Just hope that adds another perspective to the mix.

      • Thank you, Melissa, for this clarification. I can understand people’s sensitivities up to a point. However, when such sensitivities are based on the wrong facts, they become annoying signs of a misplaced victim mentality.

        I too am a Ghetto brewer. I use flavored teas, and despite the many blogs and recipes I have read that advise against the use of flavored teas, my bucha is, in my opinion, the champaign of buchas. My scobys are all healthy and well. I have also dispensed with keeping any bottles in the fridge as they are much more pleasantly fizzy when stored on the brew shelf.

        Has anyone noticed that GT has changed their cap design in the last year or so? The newer caps are much more tricky to reuse, but older caps don’t work well with the newer bottles. Keeping bottles and caps together correctly is key to effective reuse of the bottles.

    • Enough with the PC.. Especially from a white woman trying to culturally appropriate black culture without being correct in either facts or intent. Ghetto is not a black term, did not start there, it was more commonly used with Jews but I digress.

      PC is mind control and we don’t need it.

  5. Thank you for all of the tips for brewing with fruit. I am wondering, do you have to rinse the SCOBY before using it in another batch. Would rinsing the SCOBY detract from its ability to ferment in future batches?
    I appreciate any thoughts or input.

    • We do NOT recommend rinsing the SCOBY as that may deplete the yeast that cling to the culture thereby throwing off the balance between the yeast & bacteria. If you find there are quite a few brown clumps (yeast) clinging to the bottom, you may remove a few, but leave some so that you will have the proper balance & carbonation.

  6. I’ve been using the GT’s bottles too, but I have a major problem with them. I can’t get them open!!! I swear I’ve pulled a muscle in my shoulder trying to get them open. I’ve brought them to work to get other people to try. Still, nothing. Most of the time I can get them open, but I have two that I’m sure are going to be alcoholic by the time I get them open! I’ve started using quart size canning jars instead, this also works better for me since as soon as I open a bottle I want to drink it all. I recently did fresh pineapple and it was really good! Very fizzy. Also, watermelon turned out really well for me. I don’t do the “ghetto brew” mentioned here, I’ve been brewing for about two months so I’m still following Hannah’s directions to a T. 😉 Speaking of which, tonight I get to decant a batch, yay!

  7. How long can I keep my bottle in the refrigerator? Becoz after 3-4 days, the taste is sweet less and acerbity, Could you help me. How can I fix it?

    • Kombucha may be stored indefinitely. It does continue to ferment even in the fridge. We have found that storing sour Kombucha for longer periods of time allows a deeper 2ndary fermentation which shift the sourness into a drier flavor. If it is too sour, then dilute with water or mix with juice.

  8. I have a serious addiction to the Multi-green flavor. I have recently purchased a pound each of Spirulina and Chorella powder so that I could make my own. Does anyone have the recipe for that one? PLEASE????

    • Everybody has different tastes. The size of bottle, as well as how “green” you like it will be important factors to consider. Try adding 1/4-1/2 tsp of each to a 16oz bottle and then tweak the recipe from there. We also have Green Power Blend available for those who want a pre-blended “green” mix.

  9. Yep.. the old GT Synergy bottles work great! Here’s a hint for getting the labels off — put the bottle in the microwave for 25 seconds (this should loosen the label). Remove and pull off what you can. Wet whatever label is left on the bottle and put back in the microwave for 20 seconds. BE CAREFUL, glass may be very hot depending on how powerful your microwave is! At this point, the label should be very sticky and scrape off easily. I use a single-edged razor and some dish-washing soap to remove the rest. Remember to rinse well with clear water. Hope this helps.

    • Great tip Tavit! Another way to remove the label is to pour hot water in the bottles, this loosens the adhesive from the inside and then you can gently peel the label off. Use caution, if the bottles are too cold, the hot water could cause them to crack.

      • Just tried the hot water method today while at work. I didnt think it would work but I’m sick of buy Goo Gone 🙂 Filled it up with hot water from the machine and let it sit for 5-10 minutes and it peeled right off. Yay!

  10. This is too funny, I guess I am a ghetto brewer too…
    I started saving all my glass store bought Kombucha bottles before making my own. They work great! Why throw them out when you can reuse, I also use them as my water bottles. They get a lot of compliments and much more useful (recycling & economic) than the $25 glass water bottles with rubber circles over them….I just put a beer or coffee mug cozy over it for protection while bringing into the yoga studio or spin classes. My young daughter brings it into her ballet studio and has never broken it, that glass is tougher than you think 🙂

  11. i love this site. primed to make my first batch, i’ve been drinking store-boughts and am loving it.
    thank you all for your generous sharings of your kombucha wisdom.

  12. Interesting! I’ll have to pick up some extra fruit this summer to try some of these techniques! Our current favorite is ginger- I simmered some grated ginger with the sugar and water, and then added it to my bottles before I added my kombucha. So it wasn’t BREWED with the ginger, but it is SO refreshing and delicious! (P.S. We brew in wide-mouthed vases and transfer to used Snapple bottles. So “Ghetto”)

  13. wow, these comments are so cool, totally love that ya’ll were thinking along the same lines as I was. this last month, i’ve been enjoying mango as well as peach, both super double plus good!

  14. Loved this! Thanks you. Getting ready to start brewing my own as I have to get our grocery bill down and my buch habit is costly.

  15. Plum juice is nice, even the stuff i have frozen from the summer time. or watermelon i wonder what that would be like.

  16. I think I am going to try the pink lemonade…Yummy. I am kinda hooked on ginger/vanilla. I am not a fan of the fruit ones but my husband likes strawberry and blueberry. I too like the GT bottles(I get the best fizz) & wish I could get my hands on more without buying their booch….I think mine tastes much better!!!
    Thanks to Kombucha Kamp for all your great info!!!

  17. Strawberry is so delicious! My current flavors are pink lemonade (strawberry, hibiscus & fresh squeezed lemon juice) and summer breeze (chamomile, lavender). So light and refreshing! Cheers 😉

  18. great article! funny that my friend posted a link to this today on facebook, b/c i just made a batch of strawberry this week for the first time that tastes like GT’s. all i did however was make my kombucha as usual (with tea bags like you do! i use 2 gallons of water, 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of kombucha from a previous batch plus the scobie and let it sit 14 days, then i bottle it–i also use my old GT’s bottles!–and do a second fermentation–i like to leave it on the counter about a week, sometimes 2) this time though, after the initial fermentation, when i bottled it, i put in 2 oz pureed frozen strawberries and then filled the bottle with the brew and let it set and it really tastes GOOD! my mom said it tasted just like GT’s! thanks for sharing–and for letting me share! LOL! 🙂

  19. Another “ghetto” brewer weighing in…will definitely experiment with the “fruit brew” technique…so far have just been adding at bottle time. Current favorites are all the combinations of: lemon, ginger, raspberry and hibiscus. I think we’ve been using frozen fruit from TJs with decent results. Thanks for all the info!

  20. I’ve never brewed with fruit in that manner, but have added fruit to my final product which I store in old GT bottles as well 🙂 I’ve used fresh and frozen fruit… cranberries, grapefruit, lime, orange, ginger (quick way is with honey ginger crystals), blueberries, grape, strawberries, raspberries and even my fruity green smoothie containing spinach and kale (my bootleg version of my favorite GT brand… mega green), pineapple.

    anyhoo… thanks for sharing your ghetto brewing technique. I’ll give it a try soon!

  21. I’m definitely a ghetto brewer too… I figured the expense of buying GTs bottled kombucha was offset by the great bottles I was able to save and reuse daily!!
    I’m going to try McKinley’s method soon… but right now I am enjoying the second fermentation method I learned from you Hannah.
    What’s my favorite flavor? Thought you’d never ask… it’s pineapple ginger. T.H.E. bomb. One ounce fresh squeezed pineapple juice and one chunk (maybe 1/2 inch size) in the bottom of each 16oz bottle. Today I’m trying passion fruit…

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